Ares I-X lift off. Credit: NASA
After a drama-filled wait, NASA’s new rocket finally took to the sky this morning. The rocket, called Ares I-X, launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, its mission to gather critical data for the agency’s next line of moon-bound rockets.
The event marked the first time that a new vehicle has launched from the complex in 30 years and the first test flight since the Apollo missions. The historic flight was spectacular, despite the vehicles uncertain future. A recent report from an independent committee reviewing NASA’s future plans for human exploration did not favor the development of Ares I.
Ares I-X is a prototype rocket composed of real and simulated systems and includes over 700 onboard sensors designed to gather data on vibrations, temperatures, acoustics, loads, pressure, and more.
The maiden flight lasted a mere two minutes, during which time the rocket traveled through the toughest parts of the atmosphere where a launch vehicle is most vulnerable to failures. At an altitude of 45 kilometers the rocket’s two stages separated. The first stage, composed of four solid rocket boosters and a dummy fifth, will be recovered– these boosters used a set of large parachutes to drop into the Atlantic Ocean. The mock second stage broke apart and will not be recovered.
Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager told Space.com that the test flight gathered huge amounts of data. “It’s reams and reams of data that will take at best months to go through and understand.”
The teams plan to release periodic reports over the next three months to share the results of the fact-finding test flight. “We’ll come back and tell the agency and the public what we learned,” Ess said.